Introducing Albion Tourgee

       New Orleans, La., Nov. 27, 1891
Judge A. W. Tourgee,
        You are full of surprises, as an egg is of meat. I don’t know positively in which capacity I like you best: whether a Soldier, Author, Lawyer, Philanthropist, or Logician – You may rest assured that I admire you very much, all around, since the day I read “A fool’s errand.” I sympathize with you today from the bottom of my heart.
                                                Respectfully,
                                                        S. M. Eaton,
                                                Late, 12 Me Vol Inf’

Albion Winegar Tourgee’s fortitude and irrepressible spirit of determination in helping construct a new social and political order after the American Civil War based on absolute equality were hallmarks of his character, acknowledged by both supporters and detractors throughout his lifetime. Tourgee lived by and often referred to the “Golden Rule” and urged people to be proactive rather than the “bystander” in a society that was unjust and unequal in its treatment of all citizens.  His bestselling novel, A Fool’s Errand, gave Tourgee a meteoric, though brief rise to fame that he was never able to completely regain in his lifetime. However, the notoriety of the book as well as other subsequent literary works by Tourgee were indeed like lightning rods, attracting people from all ends of the political and social spectrum, weighing in on issues  of humanity, equality and justice, all in the context of race in the last half of the 19th century. Whether it was a call to political action, social organization, literary expression, educational reform, or just plain talk, the collection of materials created by Tourgee and his correspondents – over 12,000 items make up the collection –  reveal a national mood of tension, frustration, anger, anxiety and resistance, from which would ultimately erupt into the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Petition, from various individuals to Albion Winegar Tourgée, 1891-11-28. Courtesy of Chautauqua County Historical Society.